Nobles County commits $2 million match for ReConnect application for broadband

The Worthington Globe reports….

One week after discussing the potential expansion of fiberoptic broadband throughout Nobles County, commissioners on Thursday authorized spending up to $2 million on the project — if the county is awarded a significant USDA ReConnect grant to support the estimated $21 million project.

Lismore Cooperative Telephone Company is proposing to complete the project with assistance from Finley Engineering, the firm hired by the cooperative to design and build the system. LCTC built up much of the rural broadband that currently exists within Nobles County, and this would expand on their efforts by delivering fiber to another 2,900 locations, serving an estimated 6,300 residents.

Nobles County Board chairman Gene Metz stepped down from leading the meeting prior to the presentation, instead taking a seat alongside his fellow Lismore Telecom board members to promote the proposal.

More details…

The cooperative’s board last week stated it would contribute $2.5 million toward the project. Of the county’s $2 million — which would likely come from its American Rescue Plan Act allotment — commissioners said Thursday they want to ask townships impacted by the project to consider designating some of their ARPA funds to it as well.

Since Worthington, Adrian, Ellsworth and Brewster are already served by internet providers, this new project would boost service to the communities of Bigelow, Reading and Dundee.

Chris Konechne with Finley Engineering told commissioners that the construction project is estimated to be completed in three years, pending the grant. Up-front engineering would be done in 2022, and there’s roughly a 30-week lead time for materials currently.

Senators Smith and Klobuchar announce applications open for USDA ReConnect broadband grants

KTOE report

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that the USDA has begun accepting applications for loans and grants to help people in rural areas access high-speed internet. This funding was awarded through the USDA’s ReConnect program, which supports high-speed broadband infrastructure projects to improve connectivity for rural communities.

“While the enactment of the bipartisan infrastructure law will go a long way to strengthen  our nation’s broadband infrastructure, right now 16% of households in rural Minnesota continue to lack broadband at baseline speeds,” said Klobuchar. “The ReConnect program provides rural Minnesotans with the resources they need to access high-speed internet so they can work, study, and connect with loved ones online. I strongly encourage those that are eligible to apply.”

“Access to high-speed broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st century,” said Smith. “COVID-19 has made it even more clear that reliable broadband is necessary for telehealth, distance learning, remote work and more. With this new funding, rural areas will be able to develop their infrastructure, and contribute to a resilient community. I will continue working to direct more federal dollars towards Minnesota infrastructure projects to ensure we are pursuing a comprehensive investment in rural communities.”

Eligible applicants are state, local or territory governments; corporations; Native American Tribes; limited liability companies; and cooperative organizations. ReConnect funding is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90 percent of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). USDA will give funding priority to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet access services at certain speeds.

Applicants must commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at certain speeds to every location in a proposed service area at the same time. In making funding decisions, USDA will also consider the economic needs of the community to be served; the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options; a project’s commitment to strong labor standards; and whether a project is serving Tribal lands or is submitted by a local government, Tribal government, non-profit or cooperative.

Applications for funding must be submitted through USDA Rural Development’s online application system on the ReConnect webpage. For additional information, see the Oct. 25, 2021 Federal Register.